Dave and Rachel's movie reviews.


Sunday, April 13, 2014


Year: 2002
Running time: 99 minutes
Certificate: 12
Language: Mandarin
Screenplay: Feng Li, Bin Wang, Yimou Zhang
Director: Yimou Zhang
Starring: Jet Li, Tony Chiu Wai Leung, Maggie Cheung, Ziyi Zhang, Donnie Yen, Daoming Chen, Zhongyuan Liu

At a time when the magic is all but gone from Hollywood cinema, it took the Chinese to show us how an action movie should be made, with the double whammy of Hero and House of Flying Daggers coming within a year of each other, and by the same director.

Nameless takes on Sky.
This film looks nothing short of astonishing. Taking advantage of a door into western markets opened by Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and pushed through it by Quentin Tarantino, who convinced Miramax to distribute it in the States, Hero became the highest grossing movie in Chinese box office history at the time, and with good reason.

About the unification of seven warring Chinese states into a single country, Jet Li plays Nameless, a minor law enforcement officer in Qin. The king of Qin is waging a bloody war against the other six provinces and is the target of three legendary assassins, Sky (Donnie Yen), Broken Sword (Tony Chiu Wai Leung) and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung). Nameless claims to have vanquished the three assassins and is invited into the presence of the king to explain how he managed this remarkable feat. However, all is not what it seems, and there are a number of twists and turns with much being told in flashbacks; some true, some not. The most affecting part of the whole meandering plot is the love between Broken Sword and Flying Snow, which is at once both beautiful and tragic.

Flying Snow, ready to begin a gorgeously-
realised duel with Moon (Ziyi Zhang).
There is a slightly sour taste to the ending which could be accused of trying to romanticise China's sometimes appalling human rights record - China under the rule of one emperor hasn't historically been the peaceful utopian ideal Hero's characters so willingly lay down their lives for. The ultimate ideal of swordsmanship may be to be sword-less, but China's totalitarian history does not bear out this peace-loving message. But, to be fair, China is hardly alone in this type of cinematic hypocrisy.

The story then, is passable, but in the end of little consequence. After all Hero is a wuxia (translated usually as 'swordplay' or 'martial chivalry') movie, and what matters most here are the fights. Each battle is given its own colour scheme, which is an ingenious idea; an early duel where Nameless takes on Sky all in grey in the rain and the one which tells of Broken Sword and Flying Snow's previous assassination attempt, shrouded in countless green drapes, are among the most gorgeous, but make no mistake, the visuals are incredible throughout.

While there are obvious deficiencies between the real China and the one Hero paints for us, this doesn't hurt the film one bit, because, hey it's a story duh. It is shot through with a real feeling of old-fashioned romance and the characters are imbued with a sense of nobility and the willingness to die for their ideals that the Hollywood movie machine just cannot hope to contend with.

Stirring, epic stuff.

Score: 9/10

Few people have a bad word to say about Hero; see these reviews by Edward and Czarina, who's description of the film as 'visual poetry' hits the nail on its beautifully described head.